The fate of Iowa’s 2023 football campaign depends on the team’s ability to dramatically improve its production on offense. Arguably no returning player will be relied on more to elevate his performance from last year than the next Hawkeye featured in our countdown to the start of the season.
Logan Jones (Jr.)
6’3”, 290 lbs.
Council Bluffs, IA (Lewis Central)
2023 projection: Starting center
Iowa fans can be forgiven for getting caught up in the hype surrounding Logan Jones’ prospects for stardom in the black and gold. To illustrate why, let’s play a quick game of “Logan Jones or Tyler Linderbaum?”
Which player fits the following description?
-A four-star recruit per 247Sports who was named to the All-Iowa Elite football team and selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl
-Recruited to Iowa as a defensive tackle before converting to center
-Broke a program weight room record during his second year with the team
The answer: Both.
In hindsight, the expectations placed on Jones to replace Rimington Trophy winner Linderbaum were completely unreasonable, especially since the latter’s early-career growing pains were largely forgotten thanks to the brilliance of his sophomore and junior seasons. Only months removed from transitioning from defense to offense, Jones frequently struggled in pass protection, committed ill-timed penalties, found himself involved in communication breakdowns, and delivered snaps most wide receivers would have struggled to field cleanly, to say nothing of his quarterbacks. Center is arguably the most essential and mentally taxing position up front for the execution of Iowa’s zone blocking offense due to its responsibilities as a signal-caller, play initiator, and focal point of the between-the-tackles run game. By his own admission, Jones saw his confidence diminish as he struggled to master his new role in Iowa’s notoriously complex blocking scheme. The coaching staff looked at Jones and saw a star in the making, but may have put him in a no-win situation by slotting him into the starting role without giving him sufficient time to transition to a new position group.
Yet Jones remains as tantalizing an athletic prospect as ever. His strength and athleticism are off the charts, and he managed to throw a few memorable blocks over the course of 2022, including this pancake against Michigan for which he was unjustly penalized.
Logan Jones was called for unnecessary roughness after a physical block and pancaking the defender today against Michigan.— B&W Sports (@BsportsnewsW) October 1, 2022
Do you think it should have been a call? #BsportsW pic.twitter.com/oeSt3tvRGG
Jones spent Spring practice working to master the fundamentals of the center position, and Kirk Ferentz (a man who has facilitated several successful player conversions to the offensive line throughout his career) remains bullish on Jones’ long term potential. Yet time may no longer be on Jones’ side. As part of Iowa’s bid to upgrade its offensive line, the Hawkeyes secured the commitment of transfer lineman Rusty Feth, an All-Conference center from Miami (OH) who boasts several years of collegiate experience. While Feth is expected to start the season at right guard, he also gives the Hawkeyes an intuitive backup plan should Jones continue to struggle at center this season. Another run of bad snaps or blown assignments in pass protection could cause the coaching staff to consider replacing Jones with a proven veteran to help stabilize the position.
Still, if Jones has truly managed to master the mental elements of the center position, both he and the Iowa offensive line could be in line for a significant turnaround this season. Jones does not have to play at Tyler Linderbaum’s level to have a successful season. However, pairing his predecessor’s confidence, savvy, and command of the position with his own natural athleticism and notoriously feverish work ethic could help turn center from a weak point in 2022 to a position of strength in 2023. If Iowa’s offensive line takes a major step forward this season, do not be surprised if that growth is spurred largely by the maturation of the Hawkeyes’ man in the middle.